“I died, came back to life and had a baby!”: Words of hope from Western Isles mum who suffered three cardiac arrests

Sarah with daughters Isla and Emily Jane
Sarah with daughters Isla and Emily Jane

A young mum brought back to life after suffering cardiac arrest for 45 minutes has gone on to have a healthy baby girl.

Sarah MacMillan gave birth to baby Emily Jane earlier this year and now she says: “I am the luckiest mum alive.”

“I died, came back to life and had a baby! Now I just want other mums to know there is life after a cardiac arrest!”

Sarah, now 39, had just finished her shift at the Co-Op on South Uist when she collapsed and her heart stopped.

She was brought back to life by CPR from colleagues, a retired nurse who was in the shop, two local GPs and the arrival of an ambulance with a defibrillator.

It was an extraordinary feat – her chances of survival rated only 5%.

Following the frantic efforts to save her, a passing air ambulance stopped to ferry her to hospital.

Sarah was kept in an induced coma and went on to suffer two more arrests – the first in hospital and second months later on Christmas Eve at her parents’ home.

She was saved then by an implantable cardiac defibrillator inserted at Raigmore Hospital.

The tiny device is attached to the heart and kick-starts the organ when it stops suddenly.

That device was to guard her throughout her pregnancy, ready to spring in to action should she go into arrest again.

She and her husband Angus, a fishery worker, never dreamed they would have another child.

Emily Jane

“I thought my days of having babies were behind me,” said Sarah. “We had three lovely children – Seth, 16, Bryn, 15 and Isla, 6 – and I had survived the impossible.

“We decided to put the cot on a bonfire and give away the pram. I looked at the flames and thought that was the end of my baby days.

“In fact, I was pregnant at that moment. A test four weeks later came as a wonderful surprise.”

She chose to give birth at Raigmore, where her heart specialists were based.

“Doctors advised me to come off my beta blocker heart drugs early on in my pregnancy and everything progressed well,” she explained.

Sarah says she felt great for the first seven months of the pregnancy before tiredness kicked in.

“I could barely walk the stairs of our family home,” she said. “Then I showed signs of labour at 35 weeks and was flown off to Raigmore.

“We had lost a beautiful baby girl Iona at 36 weeks in 2011 and feared the same again this time.”

However, little Emily Jane was born by emergency Caesarian section five weeks early in April. She tipped the scales at a healthy 6lbs 3oz but needed immediate intensive care treatment.

“I caught a fleeting glance of her as they whisked her away,” Sarah said. “She was gorgeous!”

She was treated for sepsis and respiratory distress but recovered and was soon discharged from the special care baby unit.

Two weeks later Sarah and Emily left hospital and returned to their island home.

Consultant obstetrician Dr Philip Owen said: “It very unusual for mums who have had cardiac arrests to go on to have babies.

“We advise them to speak to their doctor and obstetrician as soon as they discover they are pregnant, preferably before if possible.”

Sarah added: “We are hugely grateful to the midwives, cardiac team and staff at both Benbecula and Raigmore.

“I love how life has worked out so well for us.

“I just want to tell other mums who have cardiac arrests that having a baby is possible.”

Sarah now helps raise funds for defibrillators on South Uist and seven have already been installed.